HC Deb 10 February 1893 vol 8 cc1040-2
MR. HOUSTON (Liverpool, West Toxteth)

I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether it is the fact that the Order in Council, dated 30th January, 1893, referring to vessels' sidelights, is in contravention of the International Regulations of 1880, which at present are enforced by Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Chili, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United States; whether his attention has been called to the danger of collision and loss of life at sea which may arise from the alteration now in force or about to be enforced in the case of British vessels, while the old regulations now in force in the case of foreign vessels remain unaltered; whether he is aware that the late Mr. Justice Butt, in giving Judgment in the case of the Fire Queen, in 1887, expressed a strong opinion that under Article 2, Sub-section D, the lights must be so screened "as not to cross the line of the ship's keel projected ahead of the ship"; whether, in the event of collisions or loss of life at sea occasioned by collision between it British vessel and a foreign one, each of which would doubtless be held in fault in the Law Courts of the other, the British Government will undertake to indemnify the owners of British vessels against all claims or losses that may be mode by the owners of foreign vessels, or that may be incurred by the owners of British vessels arising from or through collision; and, if not, whether the Government will suspend the said Order in Council until the opinions of the various Steam and Soiling Ship Owners' Associations throughout the Kingdom have been obtained; and whether he has received any representation to the effect that the said Order in Council is in itself contradictory and impossible to comply with, or, if not so, that the wording of it is ambiguous?


The Order in Council of 30th January, 1893, referring to vessels' side lights is not in contravention of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea previously in force, but is explanatory only. The object of the new Order is to substitute uniformity of practice for the diversity which previously prevailed. Representations have been made to me that danger is likely to arise prior to the adoption by foreign countries of the interpretation contained in the new Order. But I am strongly advised that that Order is in the direction of safety, and not of danger. Under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1862, whenever foreign ships are within British jurisdiction, the new Order will apply to such foreign ships, and in cases arising here concerning matters happening Within British jurisdiction, foreign ships will be treated as if they were British ships. As soon as the interpreting Regulation has been adopted by any foreign country the ships of that country when on the high seas will also be bound by it. I am aware of the Judgment in the case of the Fire Queen, but I am advised that in any future case the Courts here will no doubt be guided by the interpretation of the Regulations embodied in the new Order in Council. I do not share the apprehension of the hon. Gentleman that questions of indemnity are likely to arise prior to the adoption of the interpreting Order by Foreign Powers. I have not received any such representation as that referred to in the last paragraph.


In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall bring the matter before the House at an early date.